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Like AT THE RIVER’S EDGE, this novel is set in North Carolina with unsolved murders, investigative intrigue, and several deadly confrontations.
Kindle copies of BUTCHER ROAD are available for preorder for $1.49. This is a 50% discount below everyday prices. Order now, and your Kindle copy will be downloaded from Amazon on the date of publication, June 1st.
If you haven’t read AT THE RIVER’S EDGE, now would be a great time to pick up a copy while you’re waiting for BUTCHER ROAD to be delivered. CLICK HERE to learn more about AT THE RIVER’S EDGE.
–– D.R. Shoultz
BUTCHER ROAD – Back Cover
Out for an evening walk, Jack Fowler, two years back from a tour in Afghanistan with U.S. Army Special Forces, follows his nose to a body in an abandoned building. The badly decomposed male corpse is unable to be identified. Crime scene investigators can only determine that a single gunshot to the chest was the cause of death.
Given the density of meth labs and drug dealers in the nearby housing project of South Mill, it’s assumed drugs played a role in the killing–that is, until a second body is discovered in a similar condition. Both bodies lacked fingerprints, teeth, or other identifiable features, and both are found in abandoned buildings along Butcher Road.
A typed note found in the pocket of the second victim entangles the Army veteran in the investigation and puts him on a collision course with the killer.
BUTCHER ROAD – Chapter 1
A STENCH ESCAPED from a vacant house along Butcher Road, stinging the nostrils of Jack Fowler. It was the smell of death. Of that, he was certain.
The structure had been boarded up years ago, vines entombing the front porch soon thereafter. Jack rarely paid attention to the decaying building on his daily walks, but the foul smell couldn’t be ignored. After confirming the origin of the odor, he moved to the far side of the street and stood, thinking.
It had been years, but Jack had encountered the distinctive odor before. Adrift on the breeze was that same smell, a combination of rotting cabbage, sulfur, and feces. It was the putrid perfume produced by decaying flesh.
Tension spread over Jack’s body like a hot rash as vivid memories flooded his mind.
An IED blast lights up the horizon as debris splatters to the ground. He races to reach the scouting party he’d just sent forward as soldiers flank out to the rear, waiting for his hand signal before advancing.
Reaching the blast, two members of his platoon lay wounded at the roadside, one missing his right foot, the other clutching a gaping wound on his side. With desperate eyes, they look to him.
He radios for help, scanning the area, searching for safe shelter. The rotting bodies of Afghan soldiers, victims of rocket fire days prior, lie strewn in a ditch yards away. The sights, sounds, and smell of war surround him.
Jack took a calming breath, forcing himself to focus. For a moment, he thought about writing off the unmistakable stench as a stray cat or dog having succumbed to starvation. He glanced up and down the street but saw no one with whom to share his concern. Turning toward the late-August sun, he knew darkness was less than an hour away.
Jack took his cellphone from his pocket and called the Stonefield Police Department (SPD). Jessica Porter, assistant to the police chief, answered.
“Jessica, it’s Jack. Is the chief around?”
Her eyebrows arched, surprised to hear his voice. “He just left for the day, but Al Walker’s here. Want me to put him on?”
“Yeah. I don’t think this can wait.”
Jessica waved the tall, lanky officer to her desk. Her hand covering the receiver, she whispered, “It’s Jack Fowler.”
A smirk spread over Walker’s face as he reached for the phone. “What’s up, Fowler?”
“I’m pretty sure something or someone is rotting inside a vacant house at the corner of West Oak Street and Butcher Road.”
“You asking me to drive out there and poke through garbage?” he asked, cocking his head in disgust.
“If it’s a body, it’s not gonna smell any better in the morning.”
“Can’t you get close enough to see what it is? I’d hate to drive all the way out there just to uncover a dead possum.”
“Listen, I’ve done my civic duty. As far as I’m concerned, you can stay there and flirt with Jessica all night if you want.”
“Okay. Okay. I’ll be right out.”
Walker handed the phone back to Jessica, who placed it on the desk.
“What was that about?” she asked.
“Your old boyfriend smells something fishy over on Butcher Road.”
BUTCHER ROAD was where hope bordered despair. The narrow, two-lane street separated South Mill from Ashley Heights where Jack lived in the home he inherited from his father.
Ashley Heights was a middle-class subdivision filled with well-maintained brick homes dotting tree-lined streets. Most residents knew their neighbors and they’d often gather on weekends for cookouts. The neighboring community of South Mill was constructed in the ‘60s for the hardworking, lower-income residents of Stonefield, North Carolina. When the furniture and textile factories moved overseas in the ‘80s and ‘90s, those living in the modest structures fell on hard times and many fled the area.
Several abandoned buildings inside South Mill had been leveled. Those remaining were homes to vagrants, drug addicts, and trouble. Meth labs had become a source of income for some residents of the crumbling community. As these deadly labs were uncovered by state and local police, the meth-poisoned homes were boarded up with bright yellow warning signs stapled to the siding. In most cases, the expense of decontaminating the properties made their restoration cost prohibitive.
STREETLIGHTS cast a muddled hue across the littered street as Al Walker’s police cruiser coasted to a stop at the curb. Jack had moved a safe distance from the stench but approached as the officer stepped from his car.
“Didn’t expect you’d still be here,” Walker said. He lifted a flashlight from his belt, shining it at Fowler before turning it toward the dark building.
“I just wanted to make sure you’d show up,” Jack replied.
“I don’t smell anything,” Walker said, lifting his nose into the air.
“The breeze has died. Do you have another flashlight?”
Walker turned and retrieved one from the glove box, handing it to Fowler.
“Come this way,” Jack said, stepping toward the rear of the home. “The odor’s stronger back here.”
As both men shined flashlights along their path, they maneuvered through tall grass and around debris, walking with knees high toward the backdoor. Windows at the rear of the house were boarded shut, but the weathered backdoor was slightly ajar.
“Man, you weren’t kidding,” Walker said, taking a handkerchief from his pocket to cover his nose. “Something’s ripe in there.”
Jack stopped short of the door.
“I don’t get paid to search abandoned shacks. You lead the way,” Jack said, moving aside and extending his arm in the direction of the partially opened door.
Walker tied his handkerchief around his face before pulling his revolver from its holster. He extended his flashlight through the gap in the door and angled it around the room.
Whiskey bottles, food wrappers, newspapers and empty cans littered the kitchen. The rain-soaked drywall on the ceiling had collapsed, and water puddled on the floor from the leaking roof. Kitchen cabinet doors hung at all angles. Many of them had fallen from the hinges, the shelves becoming homes to insects and rodents.
“It’s the police!” Walker shouted through the six-inch crack in the door. “Anyone in there?”
“That was impressive,” Fowler mocked in a low voice. “Did you learn that at the academy?”
Walker ignored the sarcasm and pushed the rotting door open far enough to squeeze inside.
Flashing the beam toward the front hallway, the source of the odor became apparent. Extending into the room were the contorted legs of a dead man lying face up on the damp floor.
“Looks like you were right, Fowler. That ain’t no possum.”
Walker carefully maneuvered around the man’s feet and into the hallway, followed closely by Fowler.
The corpse was dressed in a bloodstained t-shirt and faded jeans. A circle of dried blood on the floor surrounded his upper torso. His face was decayed and sunken, as if a bowling ball had been plunged into his skull. Blackened skin clung to his bones like Saran Wrap melted onto a fireplace poker.
Walker felt his dinner rise from his stomach. He bent down and turned away.
“You okay?” Jack asked. “You’re looking a little green around the gills.”
“I’m fine. You need to step outside,” Walker replied. “This is a crime scene now. I’ll handle it from here.”
“Fine by me,” Jack said, turning and walking cautiously toward the backdoor. As he stepped outside, he could hear Walker on his cellphone, reporting what they’d found.
Jack moved quickly to the street and took in fresh air. He thought about waiting to see if the police chief would arrive. Chief Bill Pierce was an old family friend. Pierce worked for his father when the senior Fowler headed SPD years ago. Jack’s father died suddenly of a heart attack while Jack was serving overseas, and Pierce was appointed to fill the position.
Walker’s police car attracted the attention of several residents. A small group gathered at the curb witnessed Jack emerge from the vacant building. A teenager, wearing his baseball cap backwards and jeans falling off his hips, sauntered toward him.
“Hey, man. What’s goin’ down over there?” he asked.
“Nothing you need to know about.”
As the second squad car arrived with lights flashing, Jack turned in the direction of his home and walked away.